[Paleopsych] H-N: How Uncivilized! Reconfiguring Narratives of Innateness in Murray's Human Accomplishment by Mark Roberts

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How Uncivilized! Reconfiguring Narratives of Innateness in Murray's 
Human Accomplishment by Mark Roberts

[Thanks to Ole Peter for this. I stopped reading Human Nature regularly 
ever since Ian Pitchford had to give up his weekly digests due to his own 
time constraints. He continues to run the Yahoo! group 
evolutionary-psychology, which more or less emptied Human Evolution and 
Behavior (which Howard Bloom characterized as "*the* place to be on 
the Net") after that list got bogged down in high decibel arguments over 
race and Jews. Ian has shown an amazing talent for shutting down 
discussions at just the right point, esp. since many of his list's 
participants are college professors and liable to get into trouble for 
straying away from the strait and narrow.]

    Evolutionary Psychology 2: 52-65

    Book Review

    How Uncivilized! Reconfiguring Narratives of Innateness in Murray's
    Human Accomplishment.

    A review of Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the
    Arts and Sciences, 800B.C. to 1950 by Charles Murray. New York:
    HarperCollins, 2003.

    Mark S. Roberts, Department of Philosophy, Suffolk County Community
    College, Ammerman Campus, 533 College Road, Selden, NY 11784-2899,

    Charles Murray, the most influential social thinker in America today,
    [[9]1] has published a new book that purports to trace the provenance
    of genius and accomplishment in the arts and sciences from 800 B.C.E
    to 1950. The book fails to present a scientifically plausible,
    logically convincing account of the subject at hand. It depends on
    highly selective evidence to support the various central claims, and
    this often-spurious evidence is reinforced with a welter of confusing
    and sometimes superfluous statistical data that seems beyond the
    comprehension of the average intelligent reader, and, in some cases, I
    suspect, the statistical specialist. Moreover, Murray tends to
    consistently eliminate, diminish or overlook much of the evidence that
    would weaken or entirely refute his case for absolute Western
    superiority in both the arts and sciences. But, even given its flaws,
    Human Accomplishment is an unmitigated success, a brilliant shining
    star in a movement that extends back nearly two centuries to the
    nascent pseudo-scientific ideologies of "scientific" racism and
    biodeterminism. The reason it is such a roaring success is that it
    does not, in the end, intend to illuminate, enlarge, edify or inform,
    but, rather, to demonstrate and establish the intrinsic pre-eminence
    of a small group of elites, to differentiate human accomplishment on
    the grounds of racial and intellectual superiority--which it in no
    short measure succeeds in doing. It is precisely from this perspective
    that I wish to examine and critically evaluate Human Accomplishment.

    The Development of Racist Ideology

    Among the several caveats appearing at the beginning of Human
    Accomplishment, Murray stresses that the reader should not confuse his
    book with those that attempt to give a historical account of the fall
    and rise of the West--the type of account usually associated with
    writers like Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. [[10]2] In this
    regard he is entirely correct. The book is clearly not an attempt to
    trace, in historical terms, the trajectory of the fall and rise of the
    West, or to explain Western preeminence from the perspective of
    comparative history. But, even so, the work is positioned
    unambiguously in a set of interrelated traditions that aspire to
    explain the supremacy of Western, primarily white, culture--those of
    "scientific" racism, inner constitution, innateness, and, ultimately,

    The idea of innateness is hardly a modern invention, as one can find
    coherent expressions of it throughout the history of Western thought.
    Aristotle, for example, argued that human difference in intellect and
    therefore worldly position was entirely the result of a fixed natural
    order. This characterization of innateness is perhaps most evident in
    Aristotle's justification of human slavery. Although human slavery had
    existed long before Aristotle, and chattel slavery (the ownership of
    human beings as a form of property) was common from at least 500 BCE,
    he was the first to develop a systematic philosophical position
    regarding the nature of the slave and his or her station in the order
    of things. Briefly stated, Aristotle's theory of slavery is derived
    largely from his political thought. For him, the Greek political
    paradigm was the ultimate indicator of civilization. Greek culture, he
    argued, had evolved to the point where laws, self-rule and justice had
    replaced the chaotic barbarism of much of the rest of the ancient
    world. This idea of the capacity to rule politically extended to
    individuals and "elements" as well. Civil society was viewed as
    divided into those capable of ruling and those only capable of being
    ruled. This distinction also involves Aristotle's notion of intellect
    as opposed to physical strength. Some individuals have a preponderance
    of intellect, others physical strength. Since intellect is supreme in
    political life, those having mere physical power will naturally fall
    under the sway of those who exercise intellect: "an element able `by
    virtue of its intelligence to exercise fore-thought,' and an element
    `able by virtue of its bodily power to do what the other element
    plans.'" [[11]3]

    Slavery, for Aristotle, is thus a more or less accurate reflection of
    the natural state of things. Some rise up in nature to rule, others
    are there but to serve. And the difference is rooted politically in
    the natural ability to move from barbaric forms of governance to more
    sophisticated ones, particularly those like the Greek polis. Indeed,
    the Greek political and civil paradigm was the main indication of the
    difference between civilized and brutish regimes. Brutish regimes lack
    the faculty of intellect, living in a primitive state based on natural
    affinity and sensuality:

      And of foolish people those who by nature are thoughtless and live
      their senses are brutish, like some races of the distant
      barbarians, while those who are so as a result of disease (e.g.,
      epilepsy) or of madness are morbid. . . It is plain that some
      incontinence is brutish and some morbid, while only that which
      corresponds to human self-indulgence is continence simply. [[12]4]

    Aristotle also derives this idea of natural superiority and
    inferiority from his conception of the relationship between soul and
    body, since the soul has a natural superiority over the body, and that
    superiority translates into a principle of necessity: "And it is clear
    that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and the
    rational element over the passionate, is natural and expedient." What
    Aristotle is getting at is the "fact" that inferiority is the result
    of the natural and metaphysical state of things, and therefore
    irreversible. Those who are born superior will remain superior by
    virtue of an undeviating, inevitable natural order: "from the hour of
    their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule."
    Slaves, like women and lower animals, are thus no more than accurate
    reflections of their natural inferiority, their set place in the
    universal order of things. But the ineluctable order of things, this
    inevitable ranking of individuals, is not at all "natural" in any
    conventional sense of the term. Rather, it is a fully constructed
    system, devised and articulated by Aristotle himself. Based on his
    priorities and biases, the system is designed to coincide exactly with
    and therefore justify the prevailing Greek political and social
    structure. Slaves are beneficial to the expansion and development of
    Greek culture, so they are deemed to be inferior and therefore
    altogether suppressible--in many respects, even animal like. And this
    inferior position is guaranteed by the sacrosanct order of nature.

    By the nineteenth century the natural order of innateness emphasized
    by Aristotle was transformed into a biosocial principle. It became a
    standard in calculating the relative worth of particular people, races
    and civilizations. Though many utilized the standard in some form or
    other--including Kant, Lessing, Linnaeus, and the great anatomist
    Cuvier--it was not directly applied to Western civilization, i.e.,
    white culture and achievement, until the advent of racist ideology in
    the work of the nineteenth century social and political thinker Arthur
    Compte de Gobineau. As a racist ideologue, Gobineau did not fall back
    on classical social and political theory, nor was he concerned overly
    to find a theory of racial difference in the philosophical tradition
    as a whole. Rather, he sought a new explanatory racist ideology in
    what he conceived to be a kind of collective natural, "internal"
    history. For Gobineau, the peoples composing a nation were pulsating
    with a certain "germ," which carried their destiny. This "germ,"
    though subject to certain types of invasive degeneration, was
    irreversible and inevitable, sheltered from outside change, coursing
    through the blood of a particular race or people. Gobineau also
    rejected the idea of applying external data - particularly, cases of
    individual achievement within a race--to the explanation of racial
    inequality, basing inequality on purely physical and mental
    characteristics that could be determined empirically. The environment
    had virtually no effect on individual capacity. Each individual within
    a given racial strain had an innate ability to achieve certain levels
    of culture and civilization: "The true health of a people and the
    cause of life and death were to be found, as Kant and Lessing had
    observed, in `inner constitution.'" [[13]5]

    Given his "empirical" method, what Gobineau referred to as "elements
    of civilization" could be classified and expressed in "objective"
    terms, such as relative proportions. In H. Hotz's detailed "Analytic
    Introduction" to the English translation of Gobineau's Essai sur
    l'inégalité des races humains (1853-55), a chart appears that divides
    the races into three categories: intellect, animal propensities, and
    moral manifestations. The relative disproportion of these
    characteristics in the various races is instructive in understanding
    Gobineau's general theory, as well as in early biodeterministic
    thought. The white race is classified as having a "vigorous
    intellect," "strong" animal propensities, and "highly cultivated"
    moral manifestations," while the black race has a "feeble" intellect,
    "partially latent" moral manifestations, but "very strong" animal
    propensities." With an "objective" unilinear scale to determine the
    relative humanness of individual races, those judged lowest on the
    scale were subject to comparisons with the mindless, though
    instinctually proficient, brutes and beasts. In effect, they were
    doomed to an imposed set of limitations that could be calculated with
    mathematical precision. And the only salvation for these lower races
    was the intervention of the white race, which contained within it the
    germ of perfection:

      Such is the lesson of history. It shows us that all civilizations
      derive from the white race, that none can exist without its help,
      and that society is great and brilliant only so far as it preserves
      the blood of the noble group that created it, provided that this
      group itself belongs to the most illustrious branch of our species.

    The cultural and political fate of a civilization, then, is largely
    dependent on its racial composition. The more white germ stock that a
    civilization can preserve, the greater the possibility of advancement.
    The greater a civilization is contaminated by impure blood--i.e., that
    of the black or yellow races--the less the chance of advancement.

    The attractiveness of such a notion of racial
    accomplishment--particularly, to the prevailing Teutonic types--set
    off a wave of parallel racist conceptions of culture and advancement.
    Gobineau had generated what at least appeared to be an objective means
    of classifying and comparing racial characteristics and human
    development: the exigencies of environment and external conditions in
    general had been largely eliminated from his calculation, thus
    rendering human achievement an incontrovertible "fact" of inner
    constitution. The more scientifically subtle aspects of innateness,
    however, were left to others--particularly, Paul Broca, the famed
    French surgeon and anthropologist. His positivistic method in the
    sciences expanded Gobineau's theory to include newly discovered ways
    of calculating innate difference. Broca rejected virtually all forms
    of speculative science, placing his faith in a positivistic, data
    based approach to scientific research. This fondness for objectivity
    was not, however, always present in his own research. Most of the
    results of his anthropological and craniological experiments were
    simply disguised confirmations of one of the dominant prejudices of
    the time, that is, white males, Teutonic types, in the vocabulary of
    racism, were at the very top of the intelligence pyramid and women and
    the lower races occupied the bottom. His method, based on these
    prejudices, consisted in formulating a conclusion commensurate with
    this bias, and then manipulating the facts to fit that conclusion.
    After having reviewed Broca's research for an extended period of time,
    Stephen Jay Gould reached the following conclusion:

      I found a definite pattern in his methods. He traversed the gap
      between fact and conclusion by what may be the usual route -
      predominately in reverse. Conclusions came first and Broca's
      conclusions were the shared assumptions of most successful white
      males during this period--themselves on top by the good fortune of
      nature, and women, blacks, and the poor people below. His facts
      were reliable (unlike Morton's), but they were gathered selectively
      and then manipulated unconsciously in the service of prior
      conclusions. By this route, the conclusions achieved not only the
      blessings of science, but the prestige of numbers. [[15]7]

    Indeed, what Broca had really discovered was a method by which one
    could make just about any favored conclusion seem correct. Whether the
    results were arrived at validly or not was of little significance;
    what counted was that the so-called facts were correctly derived,
    properly documented, and, most importantly, elaborately quantified.
    Numbers became a sort of underlying, unchallenged truth of the
    research, and if one could generate impressive enough statistics
    regarding the object of inquiry, the validity of the conclusions would
    inevitably follow.

    Needless to say, many, many variations of this self-serving
    statistical method issued from Broca's original approach. Comparative
    anatomists, anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, experimental
    psychologists and the like generated an immense quantity of
    statistical data related to universal white supremacy in every
    conceivable field of knowledge and endeavor. Blacks, women and other
    races were "proven" to be inferior in the minutest detail, with the
    "irrefutable" support of objectively derived statistical data. The
    nineteenth century culmination of this wave of statistical proofs of
    human worth occurred with the work of the English natural scientist
    and biometrician, Sir Francis Galton. Galton articulated the modern
    theory of eugenics in an extended article turned book, entitled
    Hereditary Genius (1869). The gist of the book is that genius, of
    course, was hereditary, and that those possessed of it should be
    encouraged to propagate among their peers. Galton even encouraged a
    national exam to determine genius, whose high-scorers would be brought
    together, married at Westminster Abbey, and sent off to breed new
    generations of British leaders, men of genius, and captains of
    industry. This eugenicist trend led to the creation of various
    statistical procedures, most of which were intended to provide
    empirical data about the desirability of inbreeding the genetically
    superior. With a simmering brew of quasi-science, arcane statistics,
    and socially agreeable theory, Galton went on to establish entities
    like the Anthropometric Laboratory for the study of genetic variation,
    which, in the end, simply contributed to a somewhat new, statistically
    oriented means of measuring inferiority, and thus reinforcing the
    perpetual myth of white male superiority.

    What is Charles Murray's Stake in Innateness?

    Obviously, it is impossible to cover thoroughly the entire history of
    innateness theory here--a theory that branches off into several
    disciplines and includes important figures in experimental social
    science, like H. H. Goddard, Havelock Ellis, and R. M. Yerkes. Suffice
    to say that Charles Murray has followed a considerable tradition of
    firm believers in the use and unequivocal truth of statistical
    analysis in assigning inferiority to certain types and races. Although
    there are no doubt instances of this approach in Murray's earlier work
    on social welfare, Losing Ground, the most elaborate demonstration of
    an appeal to statistics as means of black derogation appears in The
    Bell Curve, co-authored with Richard Herrnstein. In his critique of
    The Bell Curve, Gould characterizes the effort as one that "contains
    no new arguments and presents no compelling data to support its
    anachronistic social Darwinism." The "social Darwinism" argument so
    obvious in Murray and Herrnstein's text lands full force on blacks,
    assuming that IQ test data is sufficient proof of inferior
    intelligence in the black race, and that, further, this
    "incontrovertible" statistical proof empowers an elite class to
    abandon all efforts to improve the standing of a "black underclass" in
    society, even sanctions their eventual isolation and, in the end,
    their internment:

      Over the next decades, it will become broadly accepted by the
      cognitive elite that the people we now refer to as the underclass
      are in that condition through no fault of their own but because of
      inherent shortcomings about which little can be done.. . .In short,
      by custodial state, we have in mind a high-tech and more lavish
      version of the Indian reservation for some substantial minority of
      the nation's population, while the rest of America tries to go
      about its business. In its less benign forms, the solutions will
      become more and more totalitarian. . .One possibility is that a
      variety of old police practices--especially the stop and
      frisk--will quietly come back into use in new guises. New prisons
      will continue to be built, and the cells already available will be
      used more efficiently to incarcerate dangerous offenders. .
      .Technology will provide new options for segregating and containing
      criminals, as the electronic bracelets are being used to enforce
      house arrest (or maybe "neighborhood arrest"). . .The underclass
      will become even more concentrated spatially than it is today.

    This harsh solution, however, is built upon several false assumptions.
    To begin with, Murray and Herrnstein, following the abovementioned
    tradition of innateness, suppose that IQ is a fully objectifiable
    entity that is situated somewhere in the human brain--in short, they
    reify intelligence. Arguments against this move abound. Gould ranks
    the reification of intelligence as one of the two deadly sins of
    innateness theory, by arguing that intelligence is really a vast array
    of skills and abilities, immeasurable by any single standard. The
    psychologist Howard Gardner, likewise, offers a theory of multiple
    intelligences, employing a complex set of physical and mental skills
    as standards for measurement. And, more recently, studies on emotional
    intelligence have been advanced in the behavioral sciences. Another
    error of The Bell Curve authors lies in their assertion that human
    worth can actually and accurately be ranked on a unilinear scale. This
    process of unilinear ranking consists of extrapolating data from
    various statistical protocols and then arranging them in an ascending
    order--in this case, ranking blacks well below whites and other groups
    in intelligence. But their conclusions are, once again, based on a
    false assumption: that within group heritability can explain
    differences between groups. Gould explains this fundamental error as
    the "central fallacy of using the substantial heritability of within
    group IQ (among whites, for example) as an explanation for average
    differences between groups (whites vs. blacks, for example)." [[17]9]
    The problem with this sort of manipulation is that environmental
    factors affecting each group vary significantly. To argue that lower
    black IQ scores are strictly the result of heritable traits within the
    group overlooks the fact that each of the groups exists under largely
    different socio-economic, educational, dietary, etc. conditions. If
    these conditions were improved over a period of time, the IQ disparity
    might well also improve, which was the case with the minus-fifteen
    percent immigrant populations entering the U.S. at the turn of

    In the end, however, Murray and Herrnstein are not really concerned to
    produce an objective and scientifically sound basis for IQ comparison.
    Rather, their interest lies fully in using statistical analysis to
    support a social imperative: class distinctions are not determined by
    history or socio-economic conditions, but are the result of innate
    characteristics that are entirely unalterable through external means.
    Class is a given of biology, and race is a function of biological
    givens. In short, the white race has earned its dominance, not by
    repression, exclusion, preference, force or discrimination, but by
    some irrevocable genetic superiority, one that is buried deep within
    the minute ganglia and neurons of the human brain.

    The Uses of Innateness in Human Accomplishment

    Although Murray does not use IQ statistics in Human Accomplishment to
    determine Western superiority in culture and science, he does
    nonetheless create an "irrevocable given" to solidify his position.
    This time, the incontrovertible proof lies in a vast compilation of
    entries from source biographies, encyclopedias, and dictionaries of
    prominent individuals throughout both the ancient and modern history
    of world science, art, and culture in general. In fact, Murray is able
    to identify no less than 4,002 worldwide geniuses who have soared
    above ordinary mortals for nearly three millennia. These geniuses are
    deemed geniuses not so much due to their basic contributions to
    culture or science--though Murray does offer a number of criteria for
    assessing the legacy of genius--but due to the fact that they were
    given significant linear column space in widely acknowledged and
    accepted record books of accomplishment. For Murray, it seems that
    accomplishment bears some resemblance to a road map--an extra inch or
    so is equivalent to a considerable number of miles. Moreover, with a
    few statistical adjustments here and there, Murray claims that this
    method is entirely objective, eliminating or accounting for any
    possible variables. The picture of all world achievement, then, is
    neatly and completely laid out in an "objective" skein of statistics
    culled painstakingly from the world's most definitive dictionaries and
    encyclopedias of achievement and eminence.

    If the above method and results seem familiar, they are. This is
    precisely what Galton attempted to do on a much smaller scale in his
    Hereditary Genius, that is, provide an "objective," statistical method
    for determining superiority with, in his case, the use of obituaries
    and a single biographical dictionary. Murray's revival of the old
    eugenicist "axiom" suffers from all of its obvious flaws. Like
    Galton's conception of hereditary genius, it is a method that is
    constructed to realize a presupposition about race, sex and class,
    and, one might add, socioeconomic standing. The white, mostly male,
    race is superior due to some irreversible and innate condition--in
    this case, overwhelming evidence of recorded genius. Other groups are
    inferior for the same irrevocable reasons. The force of this
    presupposition is obvious in a number of Murray's calculated
    oversights. He does, for example, spend considerable time and space
    acknowledging the contribution of China to world science and culture.
    But, in the end, the Chinese contribution is considered inferior to
    that of the West. Why? Basically, the Chinese were never able to
    measure their science in terms of a "framework that would enable the
    accumulation of scientific knowledge." [[18]10] But the idea of a
    "framework" presupposes a number of conditions that were largely
    available to Western science, but did not for the most part exist in
    China. One of those conditions was effective means of distance
    communication. China was for most of its history a vast isolated
    country, divided into numerous districts and provinces, each having
    its own forms of governance. Communication was thus not in any way
    uniform or, in many cases, even existent. That a scientist working in
    Western China, let alone a lay-person, would know of, record, or
    comment upon the discovery of another scientist working in an eastern
    province was highly unlikely. Indeed, Joseph Needham, the great
    historian of Chinese science and civilization, recounts a story in
    which a group of Chinese scientists were absolutely fascinated by a
    mechanical clock shown to them by Jesuit missionaries, completely
    unaware that the Chinese had invented precisely this type of clock two
    centuries earlier. [[19]11] In essence, then, the Chinese may have
    demonstrated--according to Needham, did in fact
    demonstrate--significant genius in various areas of science. But this
    "genius" for creativity and invention is overshadowed by Western
    science simply because the Chinese were unable to erect a "framework
    for the accumulation of scientific knowledge." That is to say, were
    unable to "objectively" quantify scientific and cultural achievement
    in some unified, well-structured way.

    Murray's strategy is quite transparent. Without a "framework" for
    quantification, achievement really does not count. If individual
    achievements haven't been minutely and properly recorded, analyzed,
    disseminated, and set down in writing--techniques much more common in
    the West than elsewhere-- they are subject to being overlooked,
    diminished or dismissed entirely. Such is clearly the case in Murray's
    treatment of African and Mezzo-American art and achievement. For
    example, in the 624 pages of text that constitute the body of Human
    Accomplishment, the whole of African culture is given six
    references--significantly less than the biographical dictionary
    entries for Forrest Moulton (U.S. astronomer). Africans simply did not
    meet the standards imposed by Murray for the determination of artistic
    achievement--in short, the entire contribution of Africa in the arts
    was merely "decorative," which, in Murray's estimation, made them too
    insignificant to even record as art items. Indeed, Murray tends to
    reduce thousands of years of African artistic achievement to the mere
    production of functional items: "Shall we treat functional
    objects--gracefully designed eating utensils, baskets, warrior's
    shields, fabrics from non-European cultures as works of art?" Just in
    case we do, Murray has a quick remedy: "We will have to include
    centuries of European production of beautiful things. . . an endless
    variety of categories of beautiful things coming out of every European
    country." [[20]12] Of course, the claim--that Africans merely produced
    "functional objects"--is patently false: they produced structurally
    complex and aesthetically striking art objects, including both
    conventional and monumental sculptures, and numerous other purely
    aesthetic items that profoundly influenced Western European art from
    the mid-nineteenth century onward. But to maintain the exclusivity and
    centrality of "objective standards" for assessing accomplishment,
    Murray must regard all of African art as devoted to creating basic
    utensils, just a knife and fork kind of culture, and therefore
    entirely lacking the intellectual "framework" necessary for cultural

    Thus, in Human Accomplishment, the traditional theory of innateness is
    simply transferred to and grounded in a complex statistical model,
    based on yet another "objective measure." Virtually all human worth in
    the arts and sciences is distilled down to a compilation of expert
    opinion. The compilation is then elaborated statistically, adjusted
    and weighted to balance out "external" factors, and presented as the
    ultimate measure of world art and science. But the measure is in
    itself reductive and closed, in that it is formulated not so much to
    objectively measure human accomplishment, but to once again confirm an
    age-old bias about race, sex, and class. This is obvious in the
    various oversights and exclusions in the book: Black Africans have no
    science to speak of and are only producers of practical items, like
    eating utensils, shields and textiles. This notion follows precisely
    the long-established view of scientific racism regarding inferior
    cultures. The lack of high art and scientific discovery indicates
    inferior intellect and sensibility; it is palpable evidence of
    backwardness, of primitiveness. Or, as Gobineau puts it, ". . . .no
    Negro race is seen as the initiator of a civilization. Only when it is
    mixed with some other can it even be initiated into one. Similarly, no
    spontaneous civilization is to be found among the yellow races; and
    when the Aryan blood is exhausted stagnation supervenes." [[21]13] So,
    even though Murray does not introduce explicit racist ideology in
    Human Accomplishment, he still conveys precisely the same message as
    thinkers like Gobineau, Broca, the IQ hereditarians, and the like:
    white males, "Europeans" and "North Americans" in Murray's
    terminology, are on top and other races lag way behind. The inviolable
    order of superiority/inferiority remains, despite the fact that Murray
    claims he has adjusted all the relevant variables.

    What Agendas Subtend Innateness?

    To be sure, inherent White supremacy is not the sole message conveyed
    by Human Accomplishment. The book not only follows the conventions of
    racial science, but also touches upon virtually all of the ideological
    points of American reactionary conservatism--largely concealed, I
    should add, by the statistical jargon of European eminence in the arts
    and sciences. The prime target of Murray's conservatism is, obviously,
    multiculturalism. His support of Eurocentricism is rife in most of the
    book's material. Indeed, one could argue that support of
    Eurocentricism is a principal by-product of Murray's entire project.
    He is not shy, however, about demonstrating explicitly the
    disproportionate superiority of European culture and science, making
    the claim that 97 percent of the accomplishment in the scientific
    inventories occurred in Europe and North America. He claims, among
    other things, to prove this by carefully choosing two books which tend
    to correspond exactly to his own statistical conclusions, but which,
    on the surface (the book jackets, to be precise) appear to support a
    multiculturalist view. After performing what he generously refers to
    as "literary criticism," that is, comparing the book jacket copy
    (which generally tend to exaggerate the book's purpose and value) to
    the texts themselves, Murray concludes that the two books on
    multiculturalism weren't really on multiculturalism, but, rather,
    profoundly in support of his own Eurocentric hypothesis. [[22]14]

    What's missing here? First of all, Murray attributes absolute
    statistical certainty regarding European and North American
    accomplishment to his own compilation of scientific inventories. As we
    have seen, his compilation is biased from the outset, secreting a
    long-standing predisposition about race, sex, class and achievement.
    Moreover, as Judith Shulevitz, in her New York Times review of Human
    Accomplishment correctly argues, written scientific inventories were
    infinitely more common to Europe and North America than to China, the
    Far East in general, Africa, the Mideast, South America, or the
    various island civilizations. [[23]15] And to argue, as Murray does,
    that the fact that inventories did not exist indicates that
    accomplishment in the arts and sciences in non-European cultures was
    meager, is patently absurd. The only reasonable conclusion that one
    can draw from the fact that inventories do not exist is that
    inventories were either lost, unaccounted for, or, more likely, were
    just not made. In short, the non-existence of a collection of
    biographical entries says virtually nothing about whether important
    scientific and artistic contributions existed in a given civilization.
    Thus, Murray turns the statistical certainty and preponderance of
    entries claim against multiculturalism. Without a store of collected
    entries in a variety of dictionaries and encyclopedias--that is, a
    fairly large statistical sampling--non-European cultural achievement
    can only muster a meager 3 percent of world achievement in the arts
    and sciences. This is a fact that in Murray's mind, should finally and
    completely undo the egregious "myths" of multiculturalism.

    With the specter of multiculturalism out of the way, Murray takes on
    another conservative aversion: Godlessness. Without taking account of
    Christianity's unparalleled repression of new ideas, the routine
    imprisonment of humanists and dissenters, the suppression of
    scientific progress, the burnings at the stake of so-called heretical
    thinkers, etc., Murray goes on to identify it as the primary source of
    Western individualism, which, in his reckoning, was handmaiden to
    accomplishment. One would think that arresting and indefinitely
    imprisoning Galileo, burning Giordano Bruno at the stake, penalizing
    every scientist who even breathed the fact that the earth revolved
    around the sun, would be sufficient reason to at least take pause when
    arguing for the "inspiration" provided science and art by
    Christianity. But, as is often the case with Murray, he tends to
    overlook destabilizing factors, arguing instead for his conception of
    the big picture, the gift of individualism so generously given by the
    late Medieval Christian Church to European elites. These elites,
    moreover, were given an even greater gift once Martin Luther nailed
    his 95 theses to the cathedral doors. Accomplishment became a reality
    of everyday life, and one did not have to wait for some heavenly
    finger to judge and acquit. Life, so dull and boring before Luther and
    the reformers, was now given purpose and direction: "The sense that
    life in general has a purpose, as opposed to being pointless, and the
    sense that this life is uniquely important, and is not just one of an
    ongoing sequence of lives." [[24]16]

    But all of this joy and creativity shared by the European elites came
    to a somewhat abrupt halt. By the latter part of the nineteenth
    century, a dark pessimism spread over Europe. The forces of atheism
    and fatalism, particularly as expressed in the work of Nietzsche and
    Freud, had, remarkably, convinced virtually all of the European elites
    that life was now, once again, pointless and, worse, Godless: "After
    Freud, Nietzsche, and others with similar messages, the belief in man
    as rational and volitional took a body blow. It became fashionable in
    the Europe of the early 20C to see humans as unwittingly acting out
    neurosis and subconscious drives. God was mostly dead among the
    European creative elites; morality became relative. These and allied
    beliefs substantially undermined the belief in creative elites that
    their lives had purpose or that their talents could be efficacious."

    Seen from another perspective, however, one might argue that this dark
    period at the beginning of the twentieth century was not all that dim.
    After all, virtually every important and influential modernist
    movement flourished in the period. Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism,
    and Surrealism emerged in the fine arts. Experimental literary forms
    exfoliated, with unique contributions by authors like Jarry, Joyce,
    Mann, Pound, Kafka, Musil, and many more. Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and
    Berg, to name just a few, developed brilliant new variations in
    musical composition and structure. Einstein was even able to envision
    the new physics in the calamitous darkness of modern irrationality.

    Obviously, Murray's analysis of the modern era is patently absurd, a
    risible misinterpretation to anyone even remotely aware of the
    modernist contributions to art and science made in the latter part of
    the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. But seen for what it
    is--an attack on modernist agnosticism, Godlessness, and cultural and
    moral relativism--it makes sense. With his sympathies lying squarely
    with the American Christian Right, Murray is compelled to spell out
    intellectual history entirely in terms of this sort of ideology. In a
    certain sense, Joyce must be seen as an "arid" writer, devoid of the
    values imparted through the Christian tradition. Cézanne, Picasso,
    Duchamp, all the modernists, must necessarily be viewed as inferior,
    as leaders of a great decline in Western creativity. But the claim for
    the great decline, the "descent of man," is not the result of some
    objective historical analysis of the arts and sciences in the modern
    period; rather, it results from the imposition of a supposition about
    the role of Christianity in Western achievement. Christianity brings
    light, inspiration and individualism, modernism brings only darkness
    and despair. Once again, reactionary ideology perfectly mirrors the
    entire history and intent of Western creativity in the arts and

    The conservative penchant for the inevitability of absolute--read,
    white male--authority is also addressed in Human Accomplishment. In
    this regard Murray pays special attention to the extreme differences
    between ordinary mortals and the 4,002 recorded geniuses, even going
    so far as to quote a passage that compares the ordinary with worms in
    face of some of these remarkable men. These giants, Murray argues, are
    the result of a "magnificent inequality" that is wholly quantifiable,
    and therefore an indisputable fact. But the "magnificent inequality"
    is wholly the invention of Murray, and, in this case, used as a means
    of justifying a set of social relations, which, in reality, are
    infinitely more complex than Murray leads us to believe. Social and
    intellectual ranking are largely the result of extraordinarily
    intricate socio-economic, political, cultural, and historical
    conditions and relations, not the stipulations of conservative
    ideology. Moreover, one just might not feel worm-like or have the
    irresistible urge to prostrate oneself before such giants as Alfonso X
    of Castile, Karl L. Immerman, Antonis Mor van Dashorst, William McCune
    or C. H. D. Buys-Ballot, earth scientist.

    In the end, one must ask a simple question about Human Accomplishment:
    Why would anyone want to read such a book? It is filled with what turn
    out to be arcane, difficult, largely incomprehensible statistics, flow
    charts, bell curves, directional charts, indices, appendices, and so
    on. Is it really important to the general reader that the combined
    separate subscores on The Correlation Matrix for the Index Sources for
    the Astronomy Inventory place Taton two cuts above Wussing? Or that
    Wussing nearly caught up with Taton on the Chemistry Index, placing
    just one notch below him? Or that Giovanni Animucchia had only one
    entry in the Roster of Significant Figures in Music and Giovanni
    Bononcini had three? Moreover, the book is filled with false and often
    absurd claims. How could one possibly believe that James Joyce was a
    ruined, "arid" writer, drawn away from a sense of purpose, goodness,
    light and Godliness by Freud and Nietzsche? That the vivid,
    life-affirming canvases of artists like Matisse, Éduoard Vuillard,
    Pierre Bonnard, and Robert Delaunay were the result of a gloomy
    pessimism that engulfed modernist Europe? Or that over countless
    millennia the entire continent of black Africa did not create a single
    artwork? The book is also filled with convenient and obvious
    omissions--the fact, for instance, that Plato and Aristotle, two of
    the highest scorers in the world achievement indices, could never have
    achieved their towering positions without those lowly slaves who,
    among many other things, toiled deep in the silver, gold, copper, and
    iron mines that enriched the Greek states, thus allowing the Patrician
    class its leisure and learning.

    The negatives go on, and on--but it is, strangely enough, a foregone
    conclusion that the book will be read, and read widely. The main
    reason for this sort of popularity is the fact that the book fits
    seamlessly into a long-standing invention of conservative ideology:
    innateness. And innateness, in its turn, proves what Aristotle had
    first suggested and Gobineau and others had later calculated: that the
    status quo was a direct reflection of an irrevocable inner
    constitution, that certain types and races are destined to lead while
    others can but slavishly follow. And the attractiveness of this idea
    is made even more attractive by Murray's persistent claim that Human
    Accomplishment provides definitive proof for what had, up till now,
    been merely a hypothesis: that elites rule by nature rather than by
    circumstance. Indeed, it is the final word in the game of finality
    played out over the past two centuries by the racist ideologues.


    [26]1 This statement may sound a bit extreme, but if one looks closely
    at American sociological and political theory with regard to its
    effect on actual legislation, then Murray ranks right on top as
    theorist. For example, his book, Losing Ground, served as the model
    for welfare reform during and well after the Reagan Administration.
    The Bell Curve has often been taken up by the U.S. Congress as a model
    for educational reform. And his "Bloody Code-like" suggestions for
    policing and criminal justice reform have been applied by many
    municipal administrations--most recently, the Giuliani administration
    in New York City.

    [27]2 Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence
    in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950, (New York: Harper & Row,
    2003), p. xvii.

    [28]3 Ivan Hannaford, Race: The History of an Idea in the West,
    (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, p. 53.

    [29]4 Ibid., p. 55

    [30]5 Ibid., p. 267

    [31]6 Arthur Compte de Gobineau, The Inequality of Human Races, (New
    York: Howard Fettis, 1967), p. 210.

    [32]7 Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, (New York: W.W. Norton
    and Company, 1996), p. 117.

    [33]8 Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve:
    Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free
    Press, 1994), pp. 523-524.

    [34]9 Gould, op. cit., p. 369.

    [35]10 Murray, op. cit., p. 237.

    [36]11 Robert Temple, The Genius of China: 3,000 years of Science,
    Discovery, and Invention, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), p. 7

    [37]12 Murray, op. cit., p. 261.

    [38]13 Gobineau, op. cit., p. 212.

    [39]14 See Murray, op. cit., pp. 254-255.

    [40]15 Judith Shulevitz, "The Best and the Brightest," New York Times
    Book Review, Sunday, November, 30, 2003, p. 12.

    [41]16 Murray, op. cit., p. 406.

    [42]17 Ibid., p. 407.

    [43]Mark Roberts


    9. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#1
   10. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#2
   11. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#3
   12. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#4
   13. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#5
   14. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#6
   15. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#7
   16. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#8
   17. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#9
   18. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#10
   19. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#11
   20. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#12
   21. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#13
   22. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#14
   23. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#15
   24. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#16
   25. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#17
   26. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#1a
   27. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#2a
   28. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#3a
   29. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#4a
   30. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#5a
   31. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#6a
   32. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#7a
   33. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#8a
   34. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#9a
   35. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#10a
   36. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#11a
   37. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#12a
   38. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#13a
   39. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#14a
   40. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#15a
   41. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#16a
   42. http://human-nature.com/ep/reviews/ep025265.html#17a
   43. mailto:schreber1 at aol.com

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